What the Navy Seals Can Teach an Overwhelmed Mom

Special Forces cadets learn how to push past physical and psychological pain by internalizing the mantra that nothing lasts forever. Let's make that a mom mantra.


It's not all buried treasure and fun field trips at out house. I'm warning you now that this is about NOT having a good day. Good week, actually. Make that, like, six weeks. That's how long we have been sick in this house. Some of us have gone through shorter phases of the sore throat, the cough, the runny nose, the goupy eyes...and a few of us are still hacking our guts out six-weeks later. Remind me why we decided to start piano lessons and swim team in the middle of all this? And why did that jerk have to steal the Engineers car THIS month?

Have you picked up that I feel like I have a lot to complain about?


"You've head it before: people's online lives seem so glittery, sparkly, happy-go-lucky. Especially these stay-at-home moms. They are the ones who have time to make the pinterest-worthy muffins for their kids snacks, or to assemble supplies for an epic hands-on project, or to read endless stories to their kids."

Especially those homeschooling moms. They really kick butt at keeping it all together. All waking moments are filled with educational opportunities, The children get along beautifully thanks to mothers' clever peace-keeping strategies.

Well, guess what? I'm hear to clear up any misconception you may have had. We - who eat organic and make our own yogurt and give our kids lots of unstructured, stress-free playtime - we have weeks that are just as filled with vomit, diarrhea, mucus and snot as the next guys'. For the past few weeks, educational opportunities seem to consist of counting how many pills each kid gets to take every day and measuring the distance you should keep between each other so that when you sneeze it doesn't rain on your neighbor, And my peace-keeping skills are now on par with the UNs...which is to say, completely ineffectual. Meals? Guess what, kids, eggs again! And the stories my kids hear are the ones read by professionals, recorded on CD which I press into my precious little ones' hands and banish them to their rooms to listen so that I can be by myself for awhile.

The Engineer told me that after breakfast the other day, he sat back and just smiled to himself.

"Why?" I asked.

"I just felt really content. Really thankful."

I looked at him confounded. Perhaps he sees a unique sort of beauty in the sunlight glinting off the baby's runny nose, or in the shiny sequins of dried snot all over the boys clothes. Perhaps he hears a snazzy rhythm in his coughing spells that makes him want to tap his toes.

"Think about it. We're sick, but we're not in the hospital or anything. The kids can go on with their day for the most part. My car got stolen, but the I'm being given a replacement car. It's not going to financially devastate us. We've really got it pretty good.

Part of me was kinda annoyed at this. Maybe if he had been up every 90 minutes with the baby the previous night (as I had been) he wouldn't have been so chipper. Another part of me knew that what he was saying was true...and I wondered what was blocking that knowledge from trickling down into my heart and giving me that same peaceful contentment that he was enjoying. Why was each coughing spasm that I witnessed sending me to the point of hysteria?

The answer, I think, lies in something I learned from a Navy SEAL. I recently read Marcus Luttrell's book, "Lone Survivor" in which he details his disastrous mission in Afghanistan. The story of the mission was an incredible survival story...but really, the lessons about survival began years earlier for him, when he was undergoing SEAL training. The absolute hell that SEAL recruit are put through induces a very high drop-out rate. Marcus commented that the people who were able to make it through successfully had several common characteristics, a crucial one being that they didn't dwell on future challenges. When he was in the middle of his third set of 20 push ups on a sandy beach, or floating in frigid water just seconds before his body become hypothermic, he wan't thinking, "How am I going to take three more weeks of this?" He only allowed himself to think about getting through the current challenge. Just don't give up and make it through that. Nothing - no matter how unpleasant - lasts forever.


The second common characteristic is that they had to be able to accept blatant unfairness. They would have their quarters spick-and-span and a superior would sneak in while they were gone and trash the place, prompting their instructor to fly into a rage when they all returned for inspection. All the recruits would face a brutal workout as punishment, and they had to submit to it even though they knew they hadn't done anything wrong.

I've found these two characteristics returning to mind a lot in the last week. They come sharply into focus when I realize that I'm not exercising them. When the baby started coughing and I burst into tears and said, "No! I can't face this for another six weeks!!"

It's ok. You don't have to face six weeks right now. Just help him through this one spasm. 

When I stamp my foot on the kitchen floor and yell to myself, "All the time I spend in here making ridiculously healthy meals! All the money I spend on quality food! All the conveniences I forgo because I want a healthier lifestyle...and cleaning up 7 vomit episodes in a day is what I get for it?!"

Yup. Not fair. Can you toughen up and live with that? 

All those people who have ever said to me, "I don't know how you do it..." as if I somehow make something magical happen in my house every day - you now know that I'm sweating it out just like you. All those people who have seen me with the cart full of organic food at the grocery store with delightful kids hanging off every side - you now know that there are times when I bring all that stuff home and stand in the middle of the kitchen and cry because when it comes to feeding my kids healthy meal I feel like I'm defeated before I've even begun.


"It's been a tough day and before I have a melt-down thinking of all that that I have to do to make it through the rest of the day, I'm telling myself: I just have to make it through today.  It's okay that today wasn't fair."

And I'm thinking that a Navy SEAL recruit might be filthy, sweaty, crying from the pain, but he's no less a SEAL because of that; in fact, all of that makes him a hero, because it means he hasn't thrown in the towel, hasn't given up.

A mom might be filthy, sweaty, crying, covered in God-knows what bodily fluids from several different people, and not doing much else with her day except trying to stay one step ahead of all the bacteria and viruses that want to make a home out of her kids...and she's no less a champion for all that. In fact, in those least-glorious moments, maybe that's where her biggest heroism is.

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